• November is Aviation History Month

    Posted on November 9th, 2011 John Dorcey No comments

    The Montgolfier brothers, Joseph and Jacques, experimented with filling paper and fabric bags with smoke and hot air during November, 1782. Their experiments continued, the balloons got bigger, and on June 4, 1783 they gave their first public demonstration. Their 28,000 cubic foot balloon, weighing about 500 pounds, lifted off from Annonay, France. The 10-minute flight covered a little over a mile. Jacques would be the first human to go aloft in a hot air balloon on October 15, 1783. The Montgolfier’s earliest experiments are recognized as the birth of aviation and are the reason we celebrate Aviation History Month in November. I want to share two stories with you today. One is an old story that is new to me, the other a more recent one.

    Hugh Robinson biography

    The Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame has shared stories of Wisconsin’s First Great Year of Flight this fall. The year 1911 saw nine different aviators demonstrate various airplanes in 13 cities throughout the state. One of those pilots was Hugh Robinson. Robinson’s early background was very similar to many of aviation’s pioneers. He was mechanically inclined, owned a bicycle shop, designed and built engines and automobiles, and finally in 1907, built and flew a dirigible. The next year, while working as a chauffeur in Europe, he witnessed an aerial demonstration by Wilbur Wright.

    Upon returning home to St. Louis, Robinson designed and built a monoplane that he exhibited at the 1909 St. Louis Centennial Exhibition. He met Glenn Curtiss while there, they became fast friends, and before leaving Curtiss had offered Hugh a job. Robinson was a Curtiss exhibition pilot when he visited Wisconsin. He made stops in La Crosse and Prairie du Chein during the fall of 1911. Curtiss and Robinson collaborated on various projects until Curtiss’ death in 1930. Robinson died in 1963. Serious students of aviation history will want to read the book, Hugh Robinson, Pioneer Aviator, written by George L. Vergara.

    Lance Sijan story

    A native of Bay View, a Milwaukee, Wisconsin suburb, Lance Sijan was a star athlete during high school. He graduated from the US Air Force Academy in 1965. Completing flight training, he was assigned to the 480th Tactical Fighter Squadron/366th Tactical Fighter Wing at Da Nang AFB, Vietnam. Visiting Bangkok, Thailand, during R&R, Sijan returned to Da Nang in early November. His first mission back was 44 years ago today – November 9, 1967. He would not return.

    The story of Sijan’s fateful mission, the attempted rescue, his 46-day survival on the jungle floor, his capture and ultimate death in the Hanoi Hilton is one that every American should know. Sijan is known by his peers as a hero. He was a 26-year-old midwestern boy next door. He was doing his duty. He died, living the military code of conduct. I don’t have many heroes, but Lance Peter Sijan is one of them. Learn more about Sijan and his story in the book, Into the Mouth of the Cat, by Malcolm McConnell.

  • The Airplane Comes to La Crosse

    Posted on October 15th, 2011 John Dorcey No comments

    The Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame (WAHF) and La Crosse County Historical Society will present “The Airplane Comes to La Crosse” on Sunday afternoon, October 30 at 2:00 p.m. The presentation will be in the main auditorium of the La Crosse Public Library, 8th and Main Streets.

    Hugh Robinson, Pioneer Pilot

    Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame board member Frederick Beseler will present a slide show detailing the flight of pioneer aviator Hugh Robinson. In October 1911,  Robinson took off from Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis on a quest to fly down the Mississippi River to New Orleans to collect a $20,000 prize.

    Along the way, Robinson stopped in La Crosse – the first time a powered aircraft visited the city. Robinson was a close associate of and demonstration pilot for famous motorcycle racer and airplane designer Glenn Curtiss. Beseler’s presentation will also describe Curtiss’ and Robinson’s many aviation accomplishments and the state of aviation technology in 1911.

    Hugh Robinson at La Crosse WI, 1911

    2011 marks the centennial anniversary of powered flight for thirteen Wisconsin cities. The Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame is sponsoring a number of events in celebraton of the Centennial of Wisconsin’s First Great Year of Flight.

    The October 30 event is free and open to the public.